Fashion Intern Horror Stories: What Really Happens During Unpaid Internships

A recent government crackdown is shaking London's fashion industry. The UK's HMRC (Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, a dept. of the UK government responsible for collecting taxes) has reportedly sent letters to 102 fashion houses warning them that they are under scrutiny and urging them to pay their interns the minimum wage or face penalties. Of course, unpaid fashion internships happen, and their legality is debated here in the states as well. In fact, the phrase "unpaid fashion internship" sounds a bit redundant in my mind because you'd be hard-pressed to find a fashion internship that wasn't unpaid. It's a tricky situation that lacks an obvious solution.
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Dhani Mau
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A recent government crackdown is shaking London's fashion industry. The UK's HMRC (Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, a dept. of the UK government responsible for collecting taxes) has reportedly sent letters to 102 fashion houses warning them that they are under scrutiny and urging them to pay their interns the minimum wage or face penalties. Of course, unpaid fashion internships happen, and their legality is debated here in the states as well. In fact, the phrase "unpaid fashion internship" sounds a bit redundant in my mind because you'd be hard-pressed to find a fashion internship that wasn't unpaid. It's a tricky situation that lacks an obvious solution.
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A recent government crackdown is shaking London's fashion industry. The UK's HMRC (Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, a dept. of the UK government responsible for collecting taxes) has reportedly sent letters to 102 fashion houses warning them that they are under scrutiny and urging them to pay their

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“My first fashion internship was in the PR department for a beloved British designer. One of her best friends, a well known supermodel (the best known supermodel?) was fronting her spring campaign. I thought getting the designer, the model and the famous photog to St. Barth’s on the same plane on the same day for the same 12 hours was a nightmare (try booking a flight to St. Barth’s—there is like a nine person shuttle plane that runs once or twice daily) but then the clothes came back post-shoot. Turns out the model, who was in the midst of a drug scandal, couldn’t quite hold it together and the white sample suit was soaked in pee. Vogue needed it for a shoot that afternoon, so guess who got to wash it out?!”

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"A friend of mine interned for a socialite who was involved with a lot of charities. She was in a town car on her way to a charity event with her intern. The socialite thought that her intern had a better top than she did. She forced her intern to switch tops in the town car or else she would have been fired, seriously. She never returned the top and insists to this day it is actually hers when she wears it in her office in front of the intern. "

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"I interned at an indie magazine and one of my duties--and the duty of every other intern--was walking the owners' two dogs twice a day, and scooping up their poop when they went. One time it was my turn and I set out with another intern, plastic bag in hand, to walk them in SoHo where the offices are. Right outside of Intermix--like seriously right beside the doorstep--one of the dogs had a terrible case of diarrhea. We had no way of cleaning it up (we would have needed a hose) and people were already starting to yell at us to clean up after our dog. So we ran away, pulling the still-sick, diarrhea-ing dog through SoHo and back to the offices, with half of SoHo screaming at us."

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"I was hired as an intern to work in the fashion closet at an independent fashion/entertainment magazine. This was when the recession had just hit and all magazines were cutting their budgets. On my first day working the fashion closet I was introduced to my boss who ran the complete fashion closet, working weekends and often into the night. Except...he was an unpaid intern. He had been there for six months, and would even miss school to work in the closet. In addition to this guy, there were, I'd say, around 20 interns whose sole job it was was to organize the closet and act as messenger service for the magazine and they usually worked until 9am to 9pm every day. Again, unpaid. We found out later that the magazine had to cut their messenger service budget and instead decided to hire a huge roster of interns. My whole time there, I think I interacted with about one person who was actually an employee. After I quit, I saw job listings that they were hiring interns to work their mailroom as well and selling it as a 'way to learn about the magazine business.' I swear they probably hired interns to work as janitors as well."

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Once my intern supervisor made me retype/write her to-do list from a piece of notebook paper four different ways (into excel, as a word doc, onto individual post-its and then re-written in my neater handwriting). I mean, really? Wouldn’t it have been more helpful if she actually let me DO something on the list to make the to-do list shorter?

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"When I had my first internship I wasn't allowed to drink from the same water cooler as anyone that worked there so I had to go into the bathroom to use the sink to fill up my water bottle during the hot nyc summer. Nice people!! "

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*Unnamed Stylist* made me do her grocery shopping, and once I had to return a thing of yogurt because she wanted the like, four ounce ones instead of the five ounce. One day my whole job was to research 'who makes soups in New York' because she was going on a soup diet. Also, I only met her twice! I worked there for two months. And had a key to her apartment.